Lovis Corinth, “Portrait of Dr Ferdinand Mainzer” (1899). Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estates of Evan and Gisela Stone and allocated jointly to the National Gallery and the Henry Barber Trust, 2021. (courtesy the National Gallery, London)

German painter-printmaker Lovis Corinth’s 1899 portrait of Dr. Ferdinand Mainzer, a German-Jewish gynecologist and intellectual who went on to resist the Nazis, has been jointly acquired by the National Gallery in London and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. The painting, which is currently on view at the newly reopened Barber Institute, is the first artwork to be allocated to multiple museums under the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme, which allows UK taxpayers to transfer ownership of important pieces of cultural heritage to the nation instead of paying inheritance tax.

In Corinth’s dourly hued portrait, Mainzer, depicted at a three-quarter view in formal dress, peers out over his pince-nez. He has a lofty, somewhat incredulous gaze and an impeccably twirled mustache. After a hand injury, the Berlin gynecologist turned to writing, authoring a biography of Julius Caesar that found international success and is said to have inspired Thornton Wilder’s 1948 epistolary novel The Ides of March. Mainzer also had connections to the city’s avant-garde intellectual and artistic circles; his wife, Gertrude, studied under the painter Walter Leistikow.

In the 1930s, Mainzer was active in the Solf Circle, a group of German intellectuals who, at great personal risk, opposed the Nazi regime. The Circle often hid or aided the flight of German Jews — including, eventually, Mainzer and his family, who escaped to London and then Los Angeles, where he died in 1943 amid a community of German ex-pats that included Theodor Adorno and Arnold Schoenberg.

The painting is the first work by Corinth to enter the National Gallery’s collection. However, the Barber Institute purchased one of the artist’s expressionist woodcuts, a 1919 depiction of the crucifixion, in 1994. After studying in Königsberg, Munich, and Paris, Corinth went on to become a leading member of the Berlin Secession group, which, under painter Max Liebermann, broke with the art espoused by the Germany academy and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Corinth participated in the Berlin Secession’s first exhibition in 1899, the year that he painted Mainzer’s portrait.

The National Gallery’s website describes the portrait as a “a key transitional work in Corinth’s career, painted in the Impressionist style influenced by his mentor Liebermann but already exhibiting — see the somber palette and bravura paint handling — intimations of the Expressionism that would come to the fore in his art in the following decade.” 

While Corinth’s early works like this one were impressionistic or naturalistic, he adopted a more expressionist style after a stroke in 1911. His work, which often depicted religious, mythological, or historical subjects, was declared degenerate by the Nazis, who removed 295 examples from public collections.

“We are extremely grateful to the Acceptance in Lieu panel for their thoughtful and creative decision which will allow this dynamic and arresting portrait to be seen in both London and Birmingham,” said Barber Institute director Nicola Kalinsky in a statement.

“The Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the National Gallery already share a portrait by Van Dyck of the artist’s friend François Langlois and now we jointly own Corinth’s portrait of his friend Dr. Mainzer,” said National Gallery director Dr. Gabriele Finaldi. “Once again the Acceptance in Lieu scheme has brought a fascinating work of art into public ownership and we are very grateful.”

Along with the UK’s Culture Gifts Scheme, Acceptance in Lieu has played a particularly significant role during the pandemic, enriching public collections at a time when many arts organizations are struggling. In its 2019/20 Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu Annual Report, published in December 2020, the UK Arts Council reported that nearly £65 million (~$92 million) in cultural objects had entered public collections that year, including multiple works by Frank Auerbach, Leonard Rosoman, and Rembrandt.

Cassie Packard

Cassie Packard is a Brooklyn-based art writer. (cassiepackard.com)